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Cox Communications Home Internet Review: Decent Speeds, but at What Cost?

Thinking about this provider for your home broadband connection? Make sure to read this first.

6.2

Cox Communications home internet

Like

  • Gigabit speeds available across entire service area
  • Reasonable data usage terms, no throttling

Don't Like

  • Plans are pricier than other cable internet providers
  • Steep price increases after first year
  • Cox gateway device doubles as a public hotspot by default
  • Unlimited data bundles are a bad value

Cable internet is a tried-and-true means for delivering fast download speeds to people's homes, and Cox Communications is available to more than 20 million people in the US. Billing itself as the largest private telecom provider in the country and boasting nearly $12 billion in annual revenue, Cox serves more than 6 million residential and business customers and offers cable internet in 19 states and Washington, DC.

If you live within that Cox footprint, there's a good chance you've at least considered it -- especially if faster fiber plans from other internet service providers aren't available where you live. In cases like that, Cox's cable speeds are likely the next best thing and certainly faster than what you'll get from DSLsatellite or a fixed wireless connection

Cox logo on a phone screen
Sarah Tew/CNET

That said, Cox plans skew toward the pricey side, with a higher cost per megabit than other cable providers (including Xfinity and Spectrum). What's more, Cox's pricing structure will try to push you into a more expensive plan each year. You'll also need to contend with a monthly data cap -- though, fortunately, Cox's data usage policies are about as reasonable as you could hope for. 

All of that makes Cox a middle-of-the-pack option for getting connected at home. But there's a lot you should consider before you sign up. Here's a full rundown on everything from prices and plans to terms, fees and the company's customer service track record.

Cox's home internet footprint is smaller than other cable providers, and concentrated in key cities and regions throughout the continental US.

FCC/Mapbox

Where does Cox Communications offer home internet service?

Along with the majority of Rhode Island, Cox's network covers parts of 19 states and the District of Columbia, with service most prevalent in areas around the following cities:

  • Cleveland, Ohio
  • Gainesville, Florida
  • Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Macon, Georgia
  • New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
  • Omaha, Nebraska
  • Pensacola, Florida
  • Phoenix, Arizona
  • San Diego, California
  • Santa Barbara, California
  • Topeka, Kansas
  • Virginia Beach, Virginia
  • Wichita, Kansas

According to data collected by the Federal Communications Commission, Cox's home internet footprint reached just under 7% of the US population as of December 2020. That's tens of millions of people, but it's short of Comcast Xfinity and Charter Spectrum, two larger cable internet providers that offer service to roughly one-third of US households.

Cox's more focused footprint also shows that it isn't a top pick for rural customers, as most of its cable infrastructure is located in dense urban areas. Other providers are better positioned to offer service outside of America's cities. If that's what you're looking for, check out our top rural internet recommendations.

How does cable internet stack up these days, anyway?

Pretty well, as a matter of fact. In addition to the fact that it's easy to bundle cable internet with cable TV and other services, most cable providers can offer download speeds of up to 940Mbps or higher. That's much better than what you'll get with DSL, satellite internet or fixed wireless, and it's competitive with a lot of the country's top fiber providers.

That said, a good fiber connection will offer concurrent upload speeds as fast as the downloads -- and this is where cable internet falls short. You'll likely be stuck with upload speeds in the double digits, even with near-gigabit download speeds. For instance, with Cox, the fastest plan (940Mbps) comes with upload speeds of 35Mbps, while the four plans beneath it offer max uploads that range from 3Mbps to 10Mbps. That might cause a crunch if you've got multiple people in your house making Zoom calls, gaming online or doing anything else that requires you to upload lots of data to the cloud in short order.

And hey, speaking of those plans... 

Cox internet plans, prices and terms

Plan Max speeds Regular monthly rate (no contract) Promo monthly rate (with contract) Monthly rate after one year Equipment rental fee Monthly data cap
Starter 25 25Mbps download, 3Mbps upload $40 $30 $45 $13/month (skippable) 1.25TB
Essential 50 50Mbps download, 3Mbps upload $50 $40 $66 $13/month (skippable) 1.25TB
Preferred 250 250Mbps download, 10Mbps upload $70 $60 $84 $13/month (skippable) 1.25TB
Ultimate 500 500Mbps, 10Mbps upload $90 $80 $100 $13/month (skippable) 1.25TB
Gigablast 940Mbps, 35Mbps upload $110 $100 $120 $13/month (skippable) 1.25TB

Cox offers a variety of plans with a variety of speeds at a variety of prices, and there are a lot of important ins and outs to consider. Let me start with the one that's so critical, I'm going to write it in big, bold letters.

Your bill will go up after Year 1, no matter what

Cox offers promotional rates on its plans and those promo rates will each knock $10 off the price of your monthly bill for the first year. The catch is that you have to agree to sign a one-year service contract to get the discount. That's fine: One-year contracts are typical in the ISP industry.

What's less fine is that your bill will shoot up at the end of that year, in some cases, by as much as $26. That's not outrageous -- Spectrum's cable internet plans go up by $25 or $30 after the first year, and Xfinity cable internet plans come with an average increase of $40 in some regions -- but keep in mind that Cox plans start more expensive than those of its competitors. And while Cox's website doesn't do a great job of making this clear, you'll see that price increase regardless of whether you accept the promo rate.

So, let's say you want to sign up for Cox's Preferred 250 internet plan, which nets you download speeds of 250Mbps. You can sign up at the regular rate of $70 per month with no contract, or you can accept the one-year service contract and bring the monthly cost down to $60. Either way, when that first year is up, your bill will go up to $84.

Here's how the promo trap works. You sign up for service and then your bill goes up after a year (orange arrows). You call to complain, and the "best value" available is the promo rate for a more expensive plan (green arrows). The cycle repeats, and your bill keeps getting higher.

Ry Crist/CNET

At this point, there's a good chance you'll call Cox to complain or try to renegotiate. Cox doesn't have an incentive to lower your costs. Instead, there's a good chance the clever salesperson will tell you that they can't offer you the same promo rate again, but they can offer you the promo rate on a faster plan. After all, you want a better deal, right? As it just so happens, you could be getting speeds of up to 500Mbps for $80 per month -- $4 less than you're paying right now for 250Mbps. Doesn't that sound good to you?

Here's the thing. That's another promo rate -- a fresh bait-and-switch -- and if you take it, the cycle starts all over again.

Look for yourself. It's no coincidence that those Year 2 rates shoot up to a monthly fee greater than or equal to the promo rate for the next most expensive plan. Like the nauseatingly busy carpets at a casino that nudge dizzy gamblers into stopping and sitting at a slot machine, the price structure is carefully constructed to confuse you into spending more money. Whenever someone with an expired promo rate calls to complain about their bill, it's easy for Cox to guide them into an even more expensive speed tier at a new promo rate. Doing so locks them in as a customer for another 12 months, and it dooms their bill to increase even more.

If you don't want to tumble down that slippery slope, you'll need to accept that Year 2 rate and stick with it. That's a tall ask, given that Cox prices are on the high side. Take that 250Mbps Preferred plan, which costs $84 after Year 1. Cable competitor Xfinity offers a 300Mbps plan for $70 after the promo period expires. That's faster speeds for less per month than Cox.

What else do I need to know about Cox?

Cox's lineup of home internet plans gets confusing fast, and not just because of the promo shenanigans. Other fine print to consider includes contract quirks, extra fees and data caps. Isn't shopping for an internet plan fun?

Additional fees

A white Cox router next to a houseplant

You can use your own modem and router, or you can rent Cox's modem and router gateway device for $13 a month.

Cox Communications

Though Cox doesn't specify the actual cost anywhere on its website that I could find, you'll need to pay an installation fee of $100 if you want a technician to get your home's internet connection up and running. You can skip this fee by ordering an Easy Connect self-install kit -- it's totally free, but you'll need to plug everything in yourself.

Cox also charges an extra $13 each month if you use its Panoramic Wi-Fi modem/router device. Starter, Essential and Preferred customers get a Wi-Fi 5, DOCSIS 3.0 device, while Ultimate and Gigablast subscribers get a faster device that supports DOCSIS 3.1 and Wi-Fi 6. In either case, you can order plug-in range extender pods to pair with your Panoramic Wi-Fi modem and router at a one-time cost of $130 per pod. Cox also commits to keeping your system's hardware and software up to date.

You can skip that $13 fee by using your own Cox-approved modem, along with a router of your own. I've also heard from Cox sales agents that it isn't uncommon for the company to lower that rental fee upon request.

"I've seen rental fees of $5, and personally, I have added that promotion when I have offered that to current customers," one agent told me in a recent chat. "So please feel free to ask for a discount on the modem if you rent it."

The other fee to be aware of is Cox's early termination fee. If you cancel your internet service while under a one-year contract, you'll be charged $120. Make that $240 if you're under a two-year contract.

Panoramic Wi-Fi doubles as a public hotspot

One more important point of note here: If you use Cox's Panoramic Wi-Fi system instead of your own modem and router, it'll put out a second, separate network from your own home network that other Cox customers can use as part of the company's web of over 3 million publicly accessible hotspots. It's a separate stream from your home network, so it won't affect your speeds or data usage, but you should still be aware of it, especially because the feature is on by default.

"Panoramic Wi-Fi devices are enabled as hotspots, expanding Wi-Fi access to eligible Cox Internet customers," reads the fine print on Cox's website. "These devices are automatically enabled as Cox Hotspots upon activation. To disable this functionality, go to Privacy Settings on cox.com/myprofile and sign in with your Cox User ID."

I can think of plenty of people who wouldn't want strangers to connect to the internet using the networking hardware in their homes. It's good to know that Cox customers can opt out, but it would be much better if the company sought their express permission before turning it on in the first place. If Cox is worried that too many people would say no, it should consider offering those customers a discount on their bill for participating.

The dish on data caps

Every Cox plan comes with a data cap -- and if you use more data than it allows in a given month, you'll start incurring extra charges. The cap used to be set at 1 terabyte per month (1,000 gigabytes), but when the pandemic hit and home internet usage soared, Cox did a nice thing and raised it by about 25% to 1.25TB (1,280GB).

That's pretty reasonable as far as data caps go. Internet usage is still climbing, but Americans went through an average of 536GB of data per month in the last few months of 2021, according to OpenVault. Then again, here at my place, we used about 1,300GB of data per month in 2021. Keep in mind that my roommate and I both work from home and use the internet pretty heavily (I test routers here, for Pete's sake). Good thing our plan doesn't come with a data cap -- no such luck with Cox.

At any rate, once you've exceeded Cox's data cap, you'll be charged $10 for each additional 50GB block of data that you use, up to a maximum charge of $100. One nice surprise here -- if it's your first month going over the cap, Cox will cut you a break, waive the charges and let you off with a warning.

"If it's your first month going over, you'll get a one-time, courtesy credit for each $10 charge on your next bill," the Cox website reads.

That's pretty generous of Cox -- especially since you won't see any such first-month mulligan from Comcast Xfinity, the other major cable provider that enforces a data cap. On top of that, Cox says you don't need to worry about speed reductions once you've broken the cap.

"We don't throttle service [or] reduce speeds if customers exceed their usage plan," says a Cox spokesperson. "We simply work with them to get them on the best usage plan to meet their needs."

So, does Cox offer any plans with unlimited data? The answer is yes, but it will cost you an additional $50 on your monthly bill. Cox offers a few discounts on unlimited data with some of their bundle packages, but you'll need to sign a two-year contract to dodge the data caps in most cases.

chart showing customer satisfaction with ISPs

Cox's rating with the American Customer Satisfaction Index improved by three points in 2021, but that's still below the category average.

American Customer Satisfaction Index

How does Cox rank on customer satisfaction?

Internet providers are far from popular, to begin with, and Cox is a little bit below average in terms of its customer satisfaction track record. In 2021, the American Customer Satisfaction Index gave Cox a 63 out of 100, which was two points better than the year before but worse than the overall ISP average of 65. Still, Cox's score tied it with Spectrum for second place among cable providers and ahead of Windstream (61), Mediacom (60), Optimum (60) and Suddenlink (55). The only cable provider that outscored Cox in 2021 was Xfinity, which finished with a score of 67.

Cox's strongest customer service rating came from the US East region, where J.D. Power scored it just below the category average.

J.D. Power

Meanwhile, J.D. Power also takes its own look at ISP customer satisfaction each year. Cox was included in three of the four regions surveyed in 2021. it did slightly better here overall than it did with the ACSI but still ended with scores below the overall average for the internet providers surveyed in three of those regions. 

We'll start in the East, where Cox finished with a score of 708 out of 1,000 -- slightly below the overall region average of 714, and behind Verizon (758) and Xfinity (725), but ahead of cable rivals Spectrum (676) and Optimum (655). 

Cox was further below average in the South region with a score of 707, trailing the overall category score of 727 and behind five other ISPs, including AT&T (753), Xfinity (740), Spectrum (725), Mediacom (723) and Sparklight (716). Still, it was a good enough finish to beat out Frontier (698), Kinetic by Windstream (682), CenturyLink (674), Suddenlink (621) and HughesNet (578).

Finally, Cox's most disappointing score came in the West region, where it had done well in 2020. This time around, its score of 696 put it near the bottom, above only Mediacom (654) and Frontier (645). 

To sum it up

If fiber internet is available in your area, you'll likely be better off going with that, as you can expect faster speeds (particularly uploads) and better value. If not, then a cable provider like Cox is probably your next best option, with faster speeds than you'll get by going with DSL, satellite internet or a fixed wireless connection.

I can't say that you'll be getting a great value with Cox, though, especially given that other major cable providers like Xfinity and Spectrum offer faster plans for less per month. Then again, if you're living in an area with limited choices for high-speed internet, you might not have many other options. 

As for Cox's data caps, they might seem off-putting, but the terms surrounding them are about as reasonable as you'll find from an internet provider -- enough so that the company's over-inflated unlimited data bundles probably aren't worth it for most subscribers.

All of that makes Cox worthy of consideration for high-speed internet at home. Just remember to stay wary of those price hikes.

Cox internet FAQs

Can I bundle Cox home internet with other services?

Yes, you can. Like most cable providers, Cox offers a variety of TV and internet bundles, along with bundles that include home phone service, security monitoring, and home automation.

Are there any perks or other features available to Cox subscribers?

In addition to the network of hotspots mentioned earlier, Cox also offers a feature called Elite Gamer, which promises to reduce lag by up to 32% while gaming online. Elite Gamer comes at no additional charge if you use Cox's Panoramic Wi-Fi modem or router. If you're using your own modem, Elite Gamer costs $7 a month.

Does Cox offer any discounts for low-income customers?

Yes. Cox offers a 100Mbps, $10-a-month plan for low- or fixed-income families called Connect2Compete. Homes with children who receive free or reduced-price school lunches should qualify -- you can learn more or check eligibility here.

Similarly, Cox also features a ConnectAssist program aimed at low-income households without children. Customers enrolled in government financial assistance programs may be eligible for a 100Mbps plan for $30 a month.

Finally, Cox is also participating in the government's Affordable Connectivity Program, which offers a $30 home internet discount for those who qualify.

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